Lady Panthers plan to end playoff dryspell
bob ford/times news Panther Valley girls basketball team members include, front row, from left, Megan Marouchoc, Jess Jacobs, Samantha Jones. Middle row, Brianna Picht, Sam Zlock, Amy Corby, Taylor Vance, Madison Blasko. Back row, coach Bill "Dapper" Lynn, coach Roman Baran, Macey Markovich, Jamey Mikovich, Kailee Smith, Abbey Whildin and head coach Josh Wank.
It's been a decade since the Panther Valley girls basketball team reached postseason play.
That's nine years too long for coach Josh Wank.
Wank wants the Panthers to become an annual fixture in the District 11 playoffs and he wants it to start right now.
The fourth-year coach guided the Panthers to the brink of qualification a year ago before losses in the final two games of the season left them one win short.
"The last few years we've talked about qualifying for districts. This year we expect to qualify," said Wank. "The only way we can improve on what we did last year is to get into districts.
"We've talked about the disappointment we felt in the locker room at Pine Grove last year and how we're going to use that as motivation this year. We don't want to have to deal with that feeling again."
The loss that Wank was referring to happened in the final game of the regular season with Panther Valley needing a win to qualify for the postseason. The loss left PV with a 10-12 overall record, which included a pair of one-point setbacks. It also left Wank and his players well aware of where the improvement must come from.
The Panthers were just 1-11 in Schuylkill League Division I play. For the program to turn the corner, it must find a way to beat some schools that have a tremendous girls basketball pedigree.
"Our league is extremely difficult, but we proved last year that we have the ability to play with teams like Pine Grove, North Schuylkill and Tamaqua. Now we have to take it to the next level. We can't be satisfied with playing those teams tough or hanging close for three quarters. We have to find a way to beat some of the really excellent teams in our league."
With four returning starters and several young players who are battling for playing time, Wank thinks the Panthers have the ability to do that.
Panther Valley returns its top four scorers, led by sophomore Abbey Whildin (10.4 ppg.) Also back are 6-3 center Trayvonda Rice (7.9 ppg.), point-guard Madison Blasko (6.6 ppg.) and power forward Sam Zlock (6.1 ppg.). The quartet provides the Panthers with a myriad of strengths on the court.
"Abbey is a great athlete who can slash and score and who has gotten a lot stronger since last season," said Wank. "Trayvonda moves extremely well for a tall girl and provides us with a great luxury on the backline of our defense, Madison runs the show on offense and is a good shooter, and Sam is a four-year starter who gives us a physical presence underneath the basket."
The fifth starter will come from a group on youngsters that includes freshman Jamey Mikovich and sophomores Macey Markovich and Taylor Vance. Also battling for quality playing time are Jess Jacobs, Amy Corby and Megan Marouchoc. Rounding out the varsity roster are Samantha Jones, Kailee Smith and Brianna Picht.
"I like our team," said Wank. "Our four returning starters have a lot of experience and I think we have a number of other girls who can contribute as well.
"The girls have worked hard and are determined to get us into districts. That is absolutely our top goal."